When I arrived in Atlanta on August 28, 2014, to cover Dragon Con 2014 for Middle-earth News, I was a noob. I was not just a Dragon Con noob, I was a CON noob. Sure, I had been to cons before, many years ago when they were much smaller and very, very different.
My Dragon Con 2014 experience was, in a word, AWESOME and AMAZING. Okay, that was two words, I know. It’s just that the Con was such an amazing experience, it’s hard for me to avoid going on and on once I get started. To try to give you an idea of my Dragon Con 2014 adventure, I will tell you about my first 24 hours (or so) in Atlanta at Dragon Con 2014.
August 28, 2014
I was very fortunate (and immensely relieved) that I was in the excellent company of fellow Middle-earth News reporter, Amanda Capley, a veteran of cons, although not specifically Dragon Con. We met up at the Atlanta airport, headed to our hotel, and then went to the main host hotels get our badges — badges with a shiny ribbon that read, “PRESS.” This was TOO exciting! We stayed up half the night prepping for our first day at Dragon Con. It was going to be a very big day.
August 29, 2014
Our Dragon Con started with a press conference with Billy Boyd (Peregin Took). When you think of a press conference, you think of a big room filled with about a million reporters battling to ask a question, and the celebrity sitting on a stage at least a hundred feet away. We arrived early for the press conference to find a small room containing a couple dozen chairs, a small platform in the front, and a few other reporters occupying some of the chairs. As the time grew nearer, Amanda and I realized that this was going to be a very small press conference, with only about a half dozen reporters in the room! I heard Billy before I saw him. He greeted the gathering, and settled in, maybe ten feet away from us, to begin what would be an informal and completely delightful half hour. The press conference was much more of a conversation than a Q&A, with topics ranging from American football, to acting versus music, and other much less predictable topics. I’ll try to avoid too many spoilers here, since we will publish the press conference with Billy soon! When the press conference was finished, Billy took the time to take photos with anyone who wanted one – I certainly did. At Amanda’s request, he even recorded a personalized video greeting for a very special friend of ours. Billy was warm, personable, and generous, and I could not have had a better experience meeting him.
Next on our agenda was our twenty-minute interview with Jed Brophy (Nori). Once again, we arrived early, expecting to wait the fifteen minutes or so until our scheduled interview time. But Jed was already there, so we started our interview right away! I thought that we would still get our scheduled twenty minutes for the interview, but we got our twenty minutes PLUS the extra fifteen! I can’t begin to describe how much fun it was to talk to Jed, and I can’t wait until we publish the interview so that you can enjoy it, too! Besides being fun, and easy-going, and thoughtful at times, Jed thanked Middle-earth News for the support that we lend The Hobbit. He thanked US. That touched me very deeply. Once again, after the thirty-five-minute interview, we got photos with Jed. And Friday was still far from over.
With the press conference and interview under our belts, Amanda and I headed off to the first panel that we were participating in as panelists, “Middle-earth vs. Westeros.” As we walked toward the room where the panel was to be held, Amanda and I passed a really big line of people who were waiting for something (not an uncommon thing at Dragon Con, to be sure). As we came to the doors of the ballroom for our panel, we realized that all those people were waiting for OUR PANEL. I admit to feeling a momentary surge of panic right then. Using my very best theatrical training, I moved past the stage fright and focused on the job to be done. The panel was expertly organized and moderated by Jim Wert, a Tolkien fan of the highest quality. Larry Curtis and Kirsten Cairns of TheOneRing.net and Susan Nease, a scholar and writer, joined Amanda and me on the panel. The ballroom was completely packed with enthusiastic Tolkien and Martin fans who really seemed to enjoy the discussion. I was lucky enough to introduce the “Strong Women” segment of the panel, a theme that seemed to strike a strong chord with the audience. I had people stopping me throughout the rest of the Con to talk about the ideas we brought up during the panel. That, to me, is what cons are all about: fans coming together to share their passion for their fandoms. As a quick aside, I’d like to give a quick shout-out to everyone involved in organizing the Tolkien Track at Dragon Con, The track is fabulous, start to finish! Every session was well organized and interesting. The only problem was that they need bigger rooms so that more fans can get in!
After our panel, we wandered over to the Walk of Fame, where most of the celebrities hang out to sign autographs. Who did we find there but Adam Brown (Ori)! He was warm and enthusiastic, and expressed his gratitude to Middle-earth News for all we do for the fans of The Hobbit films! I was struck over and over by how nice the Hobbit and LOTR actors are and how much they care about the fans. That sort of recognition feels quite nice.
Our first day at Dragon Con ended with real bang: “An Evening at Bree.” What a party that was! The excellent band Emerald Rose provided the music for lots of happy Hobbity dancing although there were plenty of Elves and Dwarves there too, to be sure. There was and some really incredible cosplay. The cosplay contest was the centerpiece of the evening, with emcees Adam Brown, Jed Brophy, and Craig Parker. While the contest judges deliberated, the Elven choir entertained the assembly. I was happy to be able to join in singing “The Song of the Lonely Mountain.”
That is a look at my first day at Dragon Con 2014. It was followed by three more equally wonderful days. Dragon Con 2014 was my first Dragon Con, but it will definitely NOT be my last!
Before I close, I’d like to offer a few con survival tips. Here is a list of the most important things to have with you at your next – or first – con.
- Amanda Capley. I would not have gotten far without Amanda! I spent the first two days of the Con completely lost. I found myself saying at every turn “Where are we going?” Besides keeping me headed toward the right place, Amanda filled me in on various general con-related tidbits, such as the importance of having a lanyard for your badge. Most importantly, Amanda was there to share Dragon Con with me. We fed of each other’s energy and supported each other through the entire Con. If Amanda isn’t available to go to the con with you, take someone to share the experience with you. The adventure will be that much more special for the sharing.
- Water bottle. Atlanta. End of August. 62,000 attendees. This is a recipe for spending a lot of time in close quarters and heat, not to mention waiting in lots of lines that are often outside. The water bottle is an absolute necessity. Be sure to have one and keep it filled.
- Comfortable, supportive shoes. You will spend lots of time on your feet, both walking and standing still. There was one afternoon when I was on my feet for over four hours straight. I was wearing the most ugly, beat-up shoes that I own, but my feet were much happier for it.
- Fandom love. This is what brings us to the cons, but the enormity of the con can be really overwhelming. Don’t be afraid to be your geekiest – you are among your people. I liked to proclaim my fandom with my t-shirts. There was at least one person, though, who thought our Middle-earth News shirts were cosplay. I’m still not sure what to think about that.
- Patience, good humor, and decent manners. It’s crowded, it’s hot, everyone is trying to get somewhere, and there are cosplayers everywhere with all manner of props and weapons protruding in odd ways. It can be frustrating trying to move around. I tried to remind myself that we were all there for the same reasons, and we all had the same right to be there. Sometimes one must just relax and go with the tide. You’ll get to the session, eventually. And I always brake for cosplayers.